Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania’

Living the Dream – Southwest Florida Global Research Institute

January 30th, 2012

Greetings From Florida - Southwest Florida Research Institute - Nick Jacobs, FACHEI’ve been on a blog hiatus — the longest since I began writing this back in 2005, but for good reason. Another former trumpet player, Kevin Taylor and I have been working on the creation of a research institute in Southwest Florida.  It will embrace an ambitious research mission, academic excellence and become the biotech engine of what could become the future of Southwest Florida’s clinical research, environmental, aging research, behavioral health and translational medicine efforts for the region.

The structure of the not-for-profit arm of this project and the strategic direction of this new 501(c)3 corporation will be the Southwest Florida Global Research Institute.

The initial primary services outlined in this plan are to outfit and set up a tissue repository. From this hub, numerous spokes will emanate that will include opportunities for faculty-student involvement from the Florida Gulf Coast University and other Florida universities, as well as research opportunities for organizations that will eventually feed other related organizations such as an incubator and an accelerator.

It is our intent to focus on the various ideas, concepts, and programs that have been embraced by the leadership of all of the local organizations with whom we have interacted during this effort to include health systems, universities, the private and public pharmaceutical and research communities, environmental science, public health officials and political leaders.

In the financial summary of a business plan, it is evident that the revenue from programs, grants contributions, sponsorships and subsidies must initially be the fiscal drivers behind all of the suggested work at SFGRI with a clear goal of having financial streams in place by year four of the operation to allow the organization to not only survive but also to thrive. With all relevant guidelines, requirements, restrictions, and recommendations in mind, let us begin with an analysis of each suggested area of concentration.

Southwest Florida Regional map - Nick Jacobs FACHE - HealingHospitals.comThe Southwest Florida Global Research Institute tissue repository is a key to growth for both research and biotech efforts in the region. Physician, faculty, staff and community involvement will all determine the degree of success that will ultimately emanate from this key research component, but the ultimate determinant for the success of this repository will come from professional guidance and initial oversight provided through the Clinical Breast Care Project’s Windber Research Institute Tissue Repository.

It is imperative that this program carries the most immediate gain for the overall success and future of the institute. The very essence of this initiative revolves around not only equipment and space, but also quality tissue derived through comprehensive protocols. In time, this effort could lead to an ongoing stream of funding that will help to meet the myriad fiscal needs of the other aspects of this project.

Equipment for setting up this program is relatively inexpensive, but expertise and recommendations for the actual business model are not and it is our recommendation that these efforts should be led through a consulting assignment with the Clinical Breast Care Project’s Windber Research Institute. In order to activate a comprehensive program such as this, highly skilled PhD’s and techs will be needed. Having contributed to the design of the numerous other programs and centers, we would recommend the researchers and employees at the Windber Research Institute as consultants to assist in this effort.  Under their direction, they have successfully put together and managed a similar program that has been identified by the National Cancer Institute as the only platinum quality tissue repository in the United States. They also have world-class experience in data management for the control of the tissue, as well as expertise in accounting, staffing, billing, and management systems that allow for the comprehensive management of the collected tissue.

Windber Research Institute - Image by PlanetRussell.netThe timeline for this program can be relatively immediate, but the overall effort must be seen as neutral and independent from all of the participating organizations. This tissue repository will contribute to biotech research which will enrich physician recruitment opportunities, for profit biotech spin-offs and training experiences for students in the schools of arts and science, business and public health at the local universities.`

In summary, the Southwest Florida Global Research Institute will be the centerpiece for what will become the vision of this region; care for aging, preventative medicine, auto-immune and diseases of the brain while spinning off companies to address all of these maladies and meeting these challenges. It will become part of a world-wide effort based in Southwest Florida with a singular goal —  to improve the health of humanity on many different levels.  That will be the mission of the Southwest Florida Global Research Institute.

Learn more:

Chico's in Lee County, near Ft. Myers, FL


People and Ponies

June 26th, 2011

I’ve been periodically volunteering my weekend time to help establish an equestrian healing center where the horses help to heal the people. Although I’m not particularly connected to horses, I appreciate them and like to watch them run freely through the fields. It’s the people in this particular volunteer leadership group, however, who “make me tick.”

Over the last twenty or more years, I’ve had several opportunities to meet healers. Now, don’t get all “New Age-y” here and run out of the room screaming. These people are “pure of spirit,” and have no ulterior motives, except to help other people navigate through this sometimes relentlessly unforgiving maze that we call life. There are two doctors, an RN, two equestrian specialists and a couple of administrative types like me who simply believe that mankind is somewhat intellectually challenged, and not always capable of grasping anything that is not black and white or concrete and factual.

Surely, with all of the things that we purport to believe in religiously, it seems incomprehensible to me that we, as a group, have problems giving it up to the fact that our brains, our spirits and our hearts don’t or can’t play a larger role than that assigned to us by our Primary Care Physicians or our big Pharma companies. For the most part, we believe in an after-life, we believe in miracles, we believe in goodness, but we have problems understanding how an Autistic kid on a loving, nurturing horse can be helped. It’s because there have not been enough control groups, double blind studies or scientific documentations to support the theory, and typically those scientific theories are only scientific law until they are proven wrong, and that has happened plenty of times.

The freedom of having been a nonmedical, nonclinical, nonscientific healthcare CEO was that “I really didn’t care what made people get better; just so they got better.” Consequently, if a golden retriever licking your hand or a clown bopping you with a sponge hammer, a violinist, a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, a flower essence or aroma therapy specialist, a reiki master or a visit from your grandchild helped you, it was all good to me. Pick your passion and start to heal.

The only real way to describe this philosophy was “Open” because that’s what it was and is. One of the amazing aspects of the collection of healers that have gathered to lay the groundwork to make this amazing dream operational is that they also believe that there is much more to healing than a pill or seven pills, and they are more than willing to be open to the spirit of healing.

Of course, one of the problems with this type of work is that you have to “let go” to allow things to happen, and if you are too into the discipline of concrete and only proven science, you will not let enough of your guard down to see what can happen. The problem is that we’ve all heard about the quacks who almost religiously rip off naïve people with magic elixirs or spiritual interventions like Whoopi Goldberg called forth in the beginning of the movie “Ghosts,” but our collection of healers is filled with people who are sincere, well-trained, highly-credentialed and, believe it or not, open to understanding what may otherwise be ignored by the scientists or the traditional establishment.

So, on we roll in search of others who believe that there may be ways to help people that have not been used for several decades or centuries where the brain leads itself into healing or where the switch that turned the gene on inappropriately can be coerced into reversing that physically destructive non-decision. Life is a journey, and when I look back at all of the people who were helped because of things that sometimes make no sense to anyone else, my only response is “Yeah, that’s right.” It can happen, and with the help of other believers it will happen.


Treating People With Dignity

June 9th, 2011

As part of my continuing series of anti-bullying blog posts, this week’s post was inspired by a WDUQ/NPR interview of the authors of a book entitled: Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect: Transforming Law Enforcement and Police Training. It was written by Jack Colwell, a police veteran and trainer, and Chip Huth, who heads a SWAT team for the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. The interview was inspired by the Pittsburgh police beating of CAPA (Creative and Performing Arts) student Jordan Miles, a who hadn’t done anything wrong. The interviewer stated that this beating, and the subsequent ruling regarding its legality, has seriously eroded the support of law-abiding citizens in the African American community and beyond toward the Pittsburgh Police.

CAPA student Jordan Miles and his mother, Terez

CAPA student Jordan Miles and his mother, Terez | Photo credit: Justin Merriman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Why, in a healthcare blog, would I select this topic? It is my firm belief that treating people with respect and dignity, regardless of the situation, leads to a more harmonious environment. Chip Huth, one of the two authors interviewed by WDUQ,  commented that the he believes that the Kansas City police force’s policy of holding meetings that allow community members to express their points of view and to feel understood may open them up to understanding the police point of view. He went on to say that “after a SWAT raid…when the situation is secure, his teams sit down with the suspects and explain the terms of the search warrant, answer questions, advise of rights, etc.” Convicted felons heading off to jail have told him how much they respect the way his team treated their families.

So, read between the lines. It’s not any different from healthcare work when it comes to “Treating People With Respect and Dignity.” It is what it is, and that care and treatment must transcend all races, colors and creeds. More importantly, it crosses all professions. By analogy, think of us as the SWAT (caregiving) team. We break into your life and scare you. It’s a well known fact that those individuals who are most often sued in healthcare are those with the weakest interpersonal skills  and worst “bedside manner.” They are often mean, curt or simply uncaring in their attitude and responses. Or else they make sure that they just don’t communicate at all with the family or patient.

Not so many years ago, I was taken to task by a group of physicians who were upset because I had written an article about those docs “who make rounds before the families are present and the patient is awake.” The good docs were indignant — and in some cases rightfully so — because they were communicators, but the “bullies” that I targeted, who were not patient centered, came at me from all directions: letters, phone calls, and attempts to have me censured by my hospital’s board. It really reminded me of the often-paraphrased Shakespearean line, “methinks he doth  protest too much.” If they were truly “caregivers,” and not technical health scientists, they would want to communicate with the patients and their families, to answer their questions, to help them understand what is happening (or about to happen) to them, and they would be sensitive so as to ensure that the fears being expressed by those involved were ameliorated about as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

If the SWAT team can kick in your door, throw in flash grenades, tie your hands behind your back, and arrest you, but take the time to heat the baby’s milk and explain to everyone involved what exactly is going on and what to expect, there will be a marked difference in response from those who are being impacted by their work. A hospital does not attain 98 or 99% patient satisfaction scores by ignoring patients and their families, treating the employees and administrators like they are minions and ignoring the kindness and respect that should be part of their jobs.

Respect - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - healthcare - anti-bullying - Healing Hospitals

Okay, I’m done. Like Aretha Franklin sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me.” Look up the Jordan Miles story online, or better still, buy the Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect book and see what can happen when you treat people with dignity.


Along the Way…Things Became Very Interesting

January 31st, 2011

Two years ago I began this new journey, but not until a few months ago did my work in consulting really begin to take shape in a way that could never have been predicted.

As the challenges of our present economic times have become increasingly daunting, my personal and professional journey has become even more dedicated to innovation and creativity. One goal has been to provide new alternatives to past practices that will create value for patients. This means making a contribution to saving and transforming lives, while producing cost savings and financial stability, and developing new markets to enable provider growth in their missions.

Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, WA - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing Hospitals - SunStone Consulting

The driving force behind my exploration began with asking how we can begin to control those out of control expenses that are currently blurring the lines between continued care for our population, and rationing or elimination of services?  But, the answer(s) must enable us to continue to add healing opportunities for our patients at every turn.

Because my creative energies have always been focused on producing more ways to generate new monies for whatever organizations I have personally represented,  it seemed somewhat foreign to me to spend more time on fiscal issues than creative alternatives.  However, with literally millions of Baby Boomers coming of age each year, it was obvious that our entire culture is at risk both fiscally and socially. Consequently, after listening carefully to my peers, several opportunities presented themselves that would address all levels of these concerns.

Through the combination of their proprietary software and dozens of years of combined knowledge in the healthcare finance field, SunStone Consulting, LLC, spends each and every working day addressing the challenges of finding monies that should already have been captured by hospitals and physician practices, while also creating new opportunities that have heretofore not been explored. That’s where SunStone Management Resources comes into play.

SunStone Consulting - Nick Jacobs, FACHE

We have identified new companies, new entrepreneurs and new creatives who can not only improve healthcare, but also significantly improve the bottom line of those organizations willing to embrace their programs. One such company with whom we are partnering can increase Emergency Room productivity by as much as 35 to 50%.  They can also help do the same for cancer centers and operating rooms. They utilize robotic systems that communicate patient needs and simultaneously seek out the appropriate medical services required as soon as the patient is triaged. The patient’s condition and potential requirements are communicated to every individual who will or should have contact with them throughout their hospital stay.

We have also identified what I refer to as “no brainer” opportunities. By making otherwise locked fiscal percentages  a commodity, even small and medium sized organizations can save huge dollar amounts. How? By changing out only the electronic reading devices used hospital-wide. This simple change has resulted in huge fiscal savings for clients.

Add to examples like those above the introduction of  a new invention that, in the right hands, can help to extend some types of Stage 3B and Stage IV cancer patients’ lives from months to years through a relatively simple post-surgical procedure. Also consider the invention of new materials that would support bone growth, while virtually eliminating the need for casts or even slings. Imagine a series of protocols that have brought over 40 people out of deep, irreversible comas. Then, on a completely different path, consider having access to  the cumulative knowledge garnered from over a hundred million dollar investment in breast cancer care.  (This is about to be made available to small and medium sized hospitals across the world.)

These are but a sampling of  just some of the opportunities currently driving my passion in this new healthcare world order.

You may want to make a simple inquiry into what’s behind the innovative, practical, and incredible creations of the brilliant people doing this work.  It’s not just so many words on a page.  It is the future, and the future for you and your organization could be now.


Making Sense of Tucson

January 11th, 2011

It was 1991 when one of  my professors at Carnegie Mellon University began discussing health policy in the United States.  He told us about Arizona, where the state government had decided to stop paying for transplants.  Then he went on to explain that desperate families were moving from Arizona to Pittsburgh, just so they could establish residency in Pennsylvania, and their loved one could receive a transplant.

At around that same time, an outspoken politician from Colorado, former Governor Richard Lamm, who ran for President of the United States on the Reform Party, described the travesty of Medicare vs. Medicaid.   He described the older generation as committing “generational murder” because, even though many times there was no hope  for their survival, for extending their life or for having any quality to their life, we, as a nation, spend 60% of our Medicare dollars on the last  30 or so days of life.  He advocated being honest and allowing people to decide if they wanted palliative care.

What he also pointed out was that, as a country, we continue to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the industrial world. The reason, he theorized, was because the seniors voted and the young mothers didn’t and no politician would dare vote against that senior coalition.  (This is not about death panels, it is about honesty in healthcare. It is about transparency and explaining the facts to the families so that they could make rational decisions.) None of his words were well received, but nevertheless, they were filled with candor and embraced very difficult ethical views.

Giffords Tucson tragedy - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing Hospitals

The bottom line?  It is a very sad situation when we have to, in effect, sentence people to death at any age because resources are not available to save them, but this is emphatically not about rationing of care, because rationing infers giving everyone a little less.  This is about making a government decision to take away everything. So, this is about making rational  resource allocation, not based upon the number of votes needed to get re-elected, but based on the value of a life at any and all ages.

Finally, the elephant in the room?  Those people killed and wounded in Arizona were killed and wounded because of a man who is most likely mentally ill.  We, as a country, must begin to address this mental health issue with parity, with commitment and without judgment.  No family is without some member who is suffering from some mental health issue, but  this discussion is still ignored, hidden or buried.

So, when the pundits ask if it is about the rhetoric? We don’t know. When they ask if it is about the availability of weapons and ammunition?  The answer seems to fall under that same category. BUT, when the question is properly directed toward mental health?  The answer seems to be absolutely, yes without a doubt.

During this time of reflection, let’s get serious about the very real and very big challenges that this nation faces. We must, as a nation, take these challenges head-on and deal with “problem solving,” and if this Congress does not begin to take action and begin to solve problems, then we must vote again in May and November to continue to make our voices heard.

Unless we can begin to talk with each other with dignity and respect, we will not make progress.  Until we begin to respect the other person’s point of view and understand that debates are healthy again, we will not make progress. Our leaders need to debate, but at the end of that debate, it is essential that they walk out of the room together and agree that they are all here to do a job, and that job is to solve problems.

My heart goes out to all of those families who were impacted by this awful tragedy.


Warm Memories During The Holidays

December 19th, 2010

On those snow-covered roads of the 50’s and 60’s, the drive to my grandparents was always unforgettable. It seemed that the roads were hardly ever plowed, and there was no salt – just those coal black ashes mixed with tiny pieces of metal that would puncture a tire at least once or twice each winter.  The trip to their house really was over the river and through the woods, as we crossed the old wooden plank bridge, and started up the back roads to the park, where they lived.

Dad was not shy about winter driving on snow drift covered roads. As we slid and crashed through the white stuff on those old, back country roads at breakneck speeds, he would laugh as if nature was just something with which to play. Rear wheel drive in those clunky old 50’s cars was just crazy fun, as the Buick turned into a high tech, machine powered sleigh.  We would drive into total isolation where no unchained car had gone before us and thrill at making those first tire tracks in that freshly fallen snow. Mom would always be yelling, “Be careful, Charlie, don’t go too fast,” but he just laughed that baritone laugh as he put the pedal to the metal.

Winter, mid-1950s - Nick Jacobs, FACHE

After our snow driving fun, we would have our snow playing fun as we romped and rolled in the snow in our grandparents’ yard. That could go on for hours or until our blue jeans were completely frozen. Then we walked like icicles toward the heat of grandma’s kitchen. We were so cold that even our long underwear was frozen. In fact, we looked like cold, hard kid-cicles.  Once inside we would peel off layer after layer of wool and cotton until we were down to our frozen long  johns.

Our grandparents’ house was a place where we were surrounded with more fun, love and craziness than a kid could ever imagine. Oh, and food?  There were pots and pans bubbling and jumping on every burner of her old gas fired stove; spaghetti, meat sauce, home grown vegetables, cookies, and every type of Italian fruit or vegetable. In the middle of the table there was always a bowl filled with black gold, those wonderful fat, black olives that became candy to me. When the spaghetti was finally put on the table it was in a serving dish that reminded me of a soup bowl for Jack and the Beanstalk’s Giant. It could have been a bassinet for triplets. There had to have been at least two or three pounds of specially cooked pasta just waiting to become part of our collective muffin tops!

After we said grace (during which Grandma could be heard mumbling in Italian under her breath), Granddad would pass the wine around the room to all of the adult males at the table.  His philosophy as he poured his homemade wine from the gallon jug was that warmth, laughter, love and fun came from the fruit of the vine.  Throughout the entire meal, they would drink and laugh and sing to the tune of those carefully-cultivated grapes.  I loved the lighthearted, happiness of those meals. We never talked about anything serious and if anyone tried to bring up a serious category, granddad would do something just plain crazy like dump his peaches into his coffee cup, and my Grandmother would begin her ritual, a ritual that she surely seemed to enjoy as she scolded him by yelling out, “Patsy, Patsy, you gonna make-a da boys be bad!”  He would smile with that knowing smile that seemed to say, “Oh, they’ll be bad, alright, but not because of tonight. It will be because they have my genes!”

We loved the hugs, the love and the laughter. We always left there feeling that total nonjudgmental, complete love that only a grandparent can give.

It was all about that love.


Light Up Night

November 20th, 2010

50th anniversary Light Up Night - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - HealingHospitals.comMy apartment is about two blocks away from Pittsburgh’s Cultural District and the same distance from the Sports District where the theaters, stadiums and plenty of restaurants are all nearby. Last night was the 50th anniversary celebration of “Light Up Night,” when the Holiday trees, choirs, and seasonal celebrations begin. Literally tens of thousands of people make their trek into the City for this special night. Zambelli puts on its finest fireworks display of the year, while lighted, horse drawn carriages, food vendors, and music fill the city. It is intended to be a special night for families, and last night was no different. Except for a few distractions.

Because my place is on a main drag and literally one apartment up from street level, activity sometimes feels like it is taking place directly in my living room. Most of the time, this reminds me that I’m alive and it is stimulating, exciting and always evolving. Last night, however, things were somewhat reminiscent of a war zone. Literally a block away, the Clemente Bridge was the staging point for some magnificent fireworks and the crowds were everywhere.

Not long into the celebration, however, it began to feel like Chicago during the filming of the Blues Brothers. Sirens were raging past my apartment at the rate of one a second to what could have been a gun battle. Instead, it was one gun and one victim with plenty of other potential participants standing by ready to mix it up. Then, a few minutes later, another burst of sirens went in the other direction toward an Irish Pub about a block from my apartment. There, another man had been shot. When the news came on, it was apparent that every available policeman in the City had been called to the Wood Street scene to attempt to keep things from boiling over as young men were escorted in handcuffs toward waiting police vans.

I am NOT a sociologist, but it seems very clear that this is just the beginning of what could literally escalate into a form of anarchy as we continue to pursue our current philosophy of greed in this country. While working on a grant a few months back I saw a statistic that was mind numbing. Young African American men in what are considered high crime areas of this city are experiencing an unemployment rate of about 75+ percent. The national average for young black men is about 45 percent and in Pittsburgh, with a few point differentiation due to my sometimes less-than-precise memory, that more global average jumps to about 55 percent.

This week, however, we heard that unemployment compensation would probably not continue to be extended, and last week we heard that education was only one of the potential targets for domestic budget cuts. Not unlike the hospital employees who consistently take all of the premium parking spaces so that their walk into the building is the very closest possible, there seems to be a breakdown in logic. If we don’t correct the problems that we have in our education system; if we don’t help people who have, for no reason of their own become jobless or disabled; if we stop caring about the middle class, and stop helping the poor to establish themselves; where will it lead as a nation?

My personal belief is that we can cut both domestic and military budgets; we can delay some gratification, and we can tweak some of the laws that allow profits to benefit the one or two percent of us who are clearly now in the elite class of protected citizens. The question is, can we do this in a way that does not destroy those who are struggling to survive? Take away the parking places, and you discourage patients from using your hospital which leads to lay-offs. Take away the safety nets, and we might soon have an out of control population that will cost us more than any of the tax breaks or safety net cuts give us. Let’s cooperate in repairing this mess. PLEASE.

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<a href=”” class=”michaelmccumber-title”>Courtesy of Michael D. McCumber Photography</a>
<a href=”” class=”michaelmccumber-location” title=”Pittsburgh, PA Pictures”>Pictures of Pittsburgh, PA</a>
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I Remember Stephen

June 2nd, 2010

In the 1970’s, my career was wrapped completely around teaching, not just teaching, but teaching and playing music.  It was during that decade that my trumpet playing reached its peak, and between the numerous big bands in the area, I could play at least two weekend and one weekday nights every week.  The music was good, the musicians were friends, and the audiences were appreciative.

Johnstown Pennsylvania - A History - Part 2 - Randy WhittleThe Lemon Drop, Casa Romani, Mynderbinders, Bimbo’s, the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, and a dozen other clubs with mostly ethnic or fraternal names were the sites of many a part-time playing job.  Be it the Johnstown Jazz Workshop, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Ice Capades, or Disney on Ice, my playing salary for the year often rivaled my teaching salary; neither of which came to more than $500 a month.

Along with those playing “gigs” there was one other primary, part -time employment opportunity and that was teaching private trumpet lessons.  It was my choice to teach at the Johnstown College of Music which was owned by Peg and Bob Hornick.  My schedule there was always packed full from 5:30 PM until 9:00 PM Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings.  There were kids of all ages from all school districts, and in the 1970’s those kids helped me pay the mortgage.  Even though I was usually pretty tired by 9:00 PM and often dreamed of learning to sleep with my eyes open, I never did.

One of my smallest students was Steve.  He was a little toe-headed, 7th grader from Forest Hills when he came to me, and he loved music.  He loved the fact that he was learning to play the trumpet from a professional and each week he got a little better.  Steve understood what it meant to work for something that he loved, and he didn’t mind getting an occasional tongue lashing if he hadn’t focused enough on his practicing that week.

Well, one night in 1976, I rushed through dinner, grabbed my jacket, and started for the door when my son, then three years old, stopped me and said, “Daddy, where are you going?”  I explained that I had to go to work.  He very slowly replied, “Daddy, you just came home from work.”  I signed and said, “I know, buddy, but I have to make some extra money.”  He looked at me quizzically and said, “What for, Daddy?”   To which I countered, “To buy you shoes.”  At that point he looked up at me and said in a very stern voice, “Daddy, I have shoes; please don’t leave me.”

It broke my heart to leave that night, but I did because I knew that I had an obligation, and when my first student walked in the door, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Steve, I’m here for you tonight, “ but those words were never spoken.
Ironically, there was an obituary in the newspaper last week, and it was an obituary for a 47 year old man who also left behind a son.  The age and the picture drew me further into the printed word where I read a name that seemed strangely familiar to me, Stephen Yanzetich.  It was Steve, my Steve, little 7th grade, toe-headed Steve who shared me that night.

Unbelievably, after 34 or so years, in his parting recognition, the author acknowledged that I had taught Steve trumpet, and as I sat back and read my own name in that obituary, I realized, once again, that it had been worth it, that 34 years later my time with Steve had been important to both of us.  That simple acknowledgement said to me, “Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for caring enough about me to teach me all of those nights.”  To which I can candidly reply,”Thank you, Steve, for being such a good kid, and may God bless you.”


Congressman John P. Murtha

February 9th, 2010

Yesterday’s phone call from the Somerset Daily American caught me off guard.  “Hi, Nick, have you heard?  Congressman Murtha passed away this afternoon.  Could you give us a quote?”  the reporter said.   Truthfully, I was not ready for this call.  Having talked to friends who had been with him only a week earlier, everything seemed like it was going to be okay, but obviously, okay was not what it was.  He had one of the 500,000 or so laparoscopic cholesystectomies performed each year to remove a gallbladder.  This surgery has a .05% complication rate, but the call proved that, regardless of the percentages, there is always risk from human involvement.

The Late Rep. John Murtha I’ve decided to dedicate this as a very personal look back at my journey with Jack Murtha.  Ironically, we had grown up practically as Pennsylvania neighbors in Westmoreland/Fayette Counties.  My first real meeting with Mr. Murtha was during the 1977 Johnstown Flood.  I was a young teacher and volunteer who was mopping the floors of the relief centers,  getting things ready for survivors who had lost their homes when I heard a helicopter come flying in and saw a tall, impressive, 44 year old Congressman deplane.  He had only been in Congress for a few years, but had clearly learned enough about the  System to keep then-President Carter on his toes and get legislation passed to help his home district.

My very next encounter with Mr. Murtha wasn’t until about three years later, when his Washington office called me to see if they could help my employer at that time, Laurel Arts of Somerset, with a bill that was going through the House before Ronald Reagan took office.  Nothing came out of that call except for the fact that I realized that his employees were parents of former students and people who liked and respected my work from those days.

Then the big encounter hit.  Mr. Murtha was looking into bringing the National Park Service into Cambria County to start what became the America’s Industrial Heritage (Tourism Development) Project.  He and several other Congressmen came to the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown to hold a Congressional hearing on the project, and, as the newly-elected President of the Laurel Highlands Convention and Visitors Bureau, I testified against the plan and explained that if they didn’t include Westmoreland, Somerset, and Fayette Counties, we would not display any literature promoting it at all of the tourist sites that we controlled.  They agreed, and not many months later, he ended up representing Fayette County as part of his district.   It worked out for both of us.

A few years later, I had transitioned into healthcare senior leadership and  invited Mr. Murtha to introduce Bob Hope at a fund raising event for the Mercy Hospital of Johnstown.  Approximately 6,000 people were in attendance and Mr. Murtha got as much applause as Mr. Hope.  The following year he helped us bring in Henry Mancini and his orchestra for a similar event and our respect for each other began to grow.

Rep. Murtha speaking at Biotechnology expo (2004)

Rep. John P. Murtha speaking at Biotechnology Expo (2004)

In 1997, when I became the President of Windber Medical Center, Mr. Murtha and I were seated near each other at a dinner party.  It was there that we  began to discuss healthcare, and his vision for the future.  Anything that would help the soldiers stay well, prevent illness, or stop it before it became an issue was his goal.  I heard him speak at the opening of one of his many health center initiatives at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he said, “I have 13 honorary degrees, hundreds of awards, and am well known as for my work in defense, but I want my legacy to be healthcare, prevention, and wellness.

His contributions to healthcare, however  small they may seem compared to what he has done for the world and for mankind, through his tireless and dedicated work were where his heart was.  His strength and vision made him the most impressive human being that I have ever known, and my love and respect for both him and his wife, Joyce, cannot be calculated in mere human measurements.  I am proud of him, his work, and his commitment, and I know that the seeds that he has planted in Breast Cancer Research will go on to save thousands of lives someday.

Ironically, it was healthcare that took his life.  No one can ever replace Jack Mutha; his knowledge of the system, his guts and determination, his singular efforts to help a district that had been devastated by natural disaster, his kindness and great personality.  No one.  So, today, I write with great sadness that our great friend is gone, but at the same time, I vow that his name, his contributions to humanity, and his memory will never be gone.

Look at or, and see what Jack Murtha built.  We loved you, Jack.


The Health Care Reality

May 15th, 2009

1979 was the year in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when I decided that it was time to leave teaching and transition into business.  For those of you who don’t remember that year, it was the beginning of some serious financial challenges for our country, but it was also two years after the Johnstown Flood of ’77, and there was an unemployment rate of 19.5% in Cambria County, PA.

1979 Rolling Stone cover Blues Brothers SNL Dan Ackroyd John BelushiIn 1980, when I accepted a job with a then bankrupt nonprofit organization in Somerset, PA, what had been a booming coal industry went into the skids. My house mortgage was about the same as the unemployment rate, 19%.  The job that I took was in the arts and Ronald Reagan was interested in cutting funding to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 1985, my new job was with a tourism agency, and that was the year that then-PA Governor Casey cut funding to tourism.

In 1988, when I entered healthcare, it was clear that Johnstown could no longer support four hospitals, and the next decade and a half resulted in the closing of two (and almost three) of the four hospitals in that area.

Turn the clock forward to last October, when I announced my decision to become a healthcare consultant.  The stock market crashed, eight of every ten hospitals stopped, postponed, or scaled back needed capital projects, 58% of hospitals are now reporting  increases in uninsured patients using the emergency departments, 48% of hospitals have cut staff, and 80% have reported cutting expenses that include consultants.

As a consultant, the first thing I would tell anyone is that “No matter how bad things appear to be, you can do it.”

  • Our successes as a teacher continue to remain evident as former students ranging in age from 38 to 58 continue to remind me of great memories of our time together.
  • The arts organization became the largest and most successful rural arts organization east of the Mississippi.
  • The Convention Bureau went from almost closed to the fifth largest agency in the State, and most of you have tracked the successes that we experienced at Windber.

Not unlike the little engine that could, we focused on the positive, forgot about the negative, and never dealt with “Mr. In-between.”


There are those who approach life cautiously, carefully, and very conservatively, and then there are those of us who drink from that same cup in big gulps and dream about how things could be rather than how they are.  There are those who are afraid of failure, and those of us who embrace failure because we know that it is getting us closer to more dramatic successes.

The only boundaries that we have are between our ears.

Because the future is a design function. Let me close this blog post with the ending from my commencement address to the graduate students of St. Francis University (with the help once again of Dr. Leland Kaiser):

  • Nothing has to be the way it is.
  • We can invent (or prevent) our future, because all limitations are self imposed.
  • We can empower ourselves to create a new world.
  • Reframe any limitations to become opportunities because…
  • Tremendous limitations breed success. They open doors.

So, as we design our future, remember that we should not work to create what people will like, but instead work to create what people will love!

…and we will know success beyond our wildest dreams.